About half of all search queries on Google are in fact local and geographical searches. Local searches have a higher conversion rate, with 50 percent of mobile users visiting a store within a day of conducting a local search and 18 percent of local searches converting into sales.

In order to make the most of these opportunities your site must be optimized for local SEO making it easier for search engines to index your pages for their respective geographic location and keywords.

Back in the day, Google had a fairly restricted list of essential criteria; such as physical location, phone numbers and in-person payment transactions to qualify listing a business. However, since the genesis of Google My Business - it just got a whole lot easier to nurture your local SEO efforts.

Were going to talk about 5 essential ways to optimize your website for localized search:

1. On-Page SEO

Your target keywords must be used together with the targeted geographic location of your business. (Refer to our previous post on 16 Free Keyword Research Tools to research your location-specific keywords.) For example, if you are a plumbing business in Seattle, you must choose relevant long or short-tail keywords together with 'Seattle'. Ranking high in a location-specific niche depends primarily on the competition you have for that particular keyword.

Using the Google Adwords Keyword Planner tool (sign up for free if you don't have an account), perform a search for your target keywords and specify the target area(s) to show how competitive those keywords are in that location. Prioritize keywords that have low competition but high search volume. If it is a highly competitive niche choose long tail keywords + the city name + State abbreviation, to get more targeted traffic. Look at the sample local keyword research results in the Google Keyword tool:

Long Tail Search Term found in Google Keyword Tool.

2. Title tag and Meta Description:

We all know that the search engines pay close attention to the keywords used in the title tag, as well as highlighting in bold those that match part/all of the users search query. On top of this, the content in the Title tag and Meta Description is viewed directly by the users in search results even before they enter a website. If you search for a keyword associated with a geo-location, you will often find search results that feature the keyword and the geo-location in the Title tag and the Meta Description content of the search snippet, as shown in the example below:

Title tag and Meta Description containing local keywords

Make sure your Meta data includes the location-specific keyword within 60-70 characters in the Title and within 156 characters in the Description.

As shown in the screenshot below, local search results are at an added advantage when displayed in the rich snippet (or Schema.org mark-up) format. Read more about Rich Snippets – What, Why and How to Implement them — in our blog. The reviews and ratings offered in a search result encourage the searcher to click the one optimized for rich snippets, when compared to regular localized search results.

An example of a search results with a rich snippet markup among regular search snippets

Here is what Google advises for Rich Snippets for Local Search. You may also make use of the Schema Creator for Review by just copying and pasting the code for structured markup for rich snippets onto your site. This makes sure your local business website shows in search results with ratings and reviews.

One of the local ranking signals that helps search engines identify you as a local business is the inclusion of NAP (Name, Address and Phone Number) details throughout your site. You need to ensure that the data is 100 percent accurate as this is the exact data that will be used for future citations of your business on other sites. Your NAP/contact information must be prominently placed on your site; moreover, it must be placed in an indexable HTML text format and not as a graphic. Placing the NAP on all relevant pages or on the footer of your site is a good local on-page SEO practice.

Search engines such as Google correlate the local SEO relevance of your local business based on the location in which you are physically present. So, if your main office is located in Florida, it is best to optimize your site for keywords containing the term 'Florida' (provided your website's NAP also represents the Florida address). For local businesses that serve multiple geo-locations, it is advisable to create a landing page for each location. You must only take this step if you are willing to create unique content for each of these location-specific landing pages. Otherwise it would only end up as duplicate content in the eyes of Google and other search engines. You could link all these pages to your main website under a specific link that reads 'Cities We Serve' or whatever is relevant.

Apart from the above on-site optimization tips for local SEO, include your locally targeted keywords in the header, on-page content, URL and image alt tags, as this contributes to your page's local SEO.

3. Google My Business:

If you haven't already, sign up for a Google My Business account for free. This is Google's (relatively) new business dashboard, replacing Google Places for Business, which consolidates all of Google's Platforms (Adwords, Analytics, Youtube, Google+) into one tidy central management hub. More importantly if you register your business you can add opening times, location - which will updated on Google Maps - images, reviews and more.

An example of a Business registered on Google My Business appearing in Search Results

To get the most from Google My Business you myst ensure that you:

  1. Verify or create your page
  2. Use the correct name, address, phone number and web address (NAP+W)
  3. Select the correct categories
  4. Include a distinctive cover photo for your business
  5. Upload any relevant photos relating to your business
  6. Create a description of your business
  7. Add a special offer or call-to-action in your description.
  8. Get a Google partner photographer to create a Google Virtual Tour of your business
  9. Aim to get at least five reviews on your Google My Business page and respond to them all.

For a more detailed explanation of how to get started with Google My Business, check out our Essential Guide.

4. Be Active on Youtube and Google+

Since both YouTube and Google+ are owned by Google, Google will check these platforms as reliable sources of information about your site and provide key ranking signals.

The Good news is that with Google My Business, the simple dashboard will enable you to do this easily so that you can post quickly and understand what is working and what isn't. Encourage people to leave reviews on Google+ and join circles and discussions that are related to your niche.

5. Local Citations

If you are a business that is popularly known on the web, you will find your business on many business listing sites. These are known as local citations. It is important to claim these listings and verify them as your business because the information listed may not be accurate, particularly if you were not the one to add it. If the listings exist, make sure to edit the information such that it matches the information on your website. This is important, as search engines such as Google fail to recognize your business name or contact information if it is even slightly different than the ones listed on your site. For example, if your address on the site says 488 Main Street while the one on a third-party website says 488 Main, Google fails to recognize this as your business.

The quantity of online business citations you have plays a major role as a local SEO ranking factor. Hence, you must invest a good amount of time in creating new listings and updating existing listings. You should create new listings on reputable sites to earn quality citations (and in some cases backlinks). Read our blog on 10 Free US Business Listing Sites or find some more local business directories listed here. You may also access GetListed.org, and WhiteSpark; trusted resources for local business citation information.

6. Reviews

User reviews, either on your site or on third-party review sites, contribute as one of the top local SEO ranking factors, as well as building trust to seal the deal when users find your site. Google also provides star ratings based on user reviews made through Google's reviewing platform, so the more positive reviews you have, the more likely a user will click on your ad in the local pack results. If you want to rank high in Google searches, focus on getting as many Google+ Local reviews as you can. Google allows you to offer incentives or discounts to your customers for writing a review on your Google+ Local Business profile, unlike some other top review sites, such as Yelp. Google does not, however, allow you to use incentives exclusively for positive reviews.

Reviews in local pack results

It is a good idea to add logos or buttons on your site that link to popular review sites. This way users are able to submit a review right from your site. You can ask for reviews via email, newsletters or direct interactions with your customers during check out. If you make it quick and easy for them to do, they will often oblige. Keep in mind that if you invest time in acquiring these reviews you must also invest time in replying to them, especially in the case of negative reviews. In this case you must ensure that you are able to tackle the customer concern promptly and encourage them to voice their satisfaction in the form of another review.

The following are the local SEO ranking factors which are related to reviews:

  • The number of user reviews from authoritative review sites such as Yelp, Yahoo Local, FourSquare, AngiesList, JudysBook and MerchantCircle
  • High user-ratings on third-party rating sites
  • Location keywords mentioned in your reviews
  • The amount of positive sentiment in reviews
  • The diversity of sites where third-party reviews exist for a local business

Note: Do not work aggressively on obtaining reviews for a certain period and completely forget about it later. Google does not just take the volume of reviews into consideration but also the rate at which reviews are received. Any indication of unnatural activity in the form of bulk positive reviews accumulated on review sites within a short time frame, (probably from friends or cheap SEO companies) may be found suspicious and will be penalized.

Reviews are a form of business citation that collectively constitutes as a local SEO ranking factor. If you are able to interact with the customers before they post reviews to your site, encourage them to mention the product or service name in the review. This increases your chances to rank for those keywords.

If you have reviews on your product or service pages, add a rich snippet for reviews markup with the Schema Creator tool for Reviews and paste the code onto the web page.

7. Off-Page Link Building

Apart from the general link building strategies like the ones mentioned in the WooRank Project feature, local businesses need to generate locally relevant links to their site from local blogs, review sites, local business directories, university sites and so on.

The following are a few ideas for building quality links to your site and optimizing them for local SEO:

  • Get a blog page set up on your site and write on topics related to your niche.
  • Find bloggers in your niche and ask them to review your product/service
  • Invite guest bloggers to post on your site.
  • Comment on blogs in your niche. You will probably not be able to post a link to your site, but you can build a rapport with other readers and followers of the blog to build a network of people in your industry.
  • Take part in forum discussions on topics related to your industry.
  • Take part in local events and charities.
  • Getting listed on local business directories, (as discussed above under citations,) is also an off-page link building strategy for local SEO. A few examples of local business directories are: InsiderPages, CitySquares and MojoPages.

You can improve your local SEO strategy to a large extent by implementing the local ranking factors discussed above. Just make sure that you create a user-friendly site that follows SEO best practices together with natural link building to gradually make your way up in the search results. Once you've taken these steps in optimizing your site for local SEO, be sure to check out our list of awesome tools that can help you along the way.

Google has also updated the advice given for Improving your local ranking on Google, so keep an eye on the latest recommendations.